Tamworth Celebrates 175 Years of Community, Resilience, and Spirit.
Tamworth is located in scenic eastern Ontario. The village’s population grew in the late 1840s with the arrival of Irish immigrants, seeking a better life amidst the potato famine. Largely tenant farmers, they purchased land for a dollar per acre, cleared fields, built rock fences, raised timber barns, and made money from selling potash. They tapped trees, counting on maple syrup for their annual sugar supply.
Settlers were also hired by The Canada Company to log nearly 22,000 acres, transporting them down the Salmon River. Settlers began to purchase livestock: cows, pigs, and oxen. Labour was a community effort, with land clearing, stone picking, and barn raising bees.
Millwright Calvin Wheeler built the first house in the village and a saw and grist mill followed at the falls on the Salmon River, thus the village became known as Wheeler’s Mills. Wheeler was instrumental in arranging mail delivery in 1848. Asked to name the post office, he chose the name Tamworth in honour of the constituency in England held by his favourite Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel.
Tamworth grew, adding homes, businesses, schools, and churches. Local hotels provided gathering places to obtain local and world news. By 1860, horses were becoming more common. Wealthier farmers purchased buggies. Improved roads allowed farmers to sell produce in Napanee, Kingston, or Belleville. Livestock sales took place in a central location and once concluded, the separate groups of buyers drove their livestock in three directions, towards Napanee, Kingston or Belleville.
With increasing frequency and ease of travel, around 1875, many smaller communities in the area began to suffer a decrease in business and stores began to close. In contrast, Tamworth with its array of mills, foundries, and stores, flourished. There was little that residents couldn’t readily purchase in the village and house parties provided entertainment, social connection and live music.
Tamworth gained a railway station in 1884, courtesy of the Napanee, Tamworth, and Quebec Railway. Renamed Kingston, Napanee & Western Railway, then acquired by the Bay of Quinte Railway, and finally purchased by Canadian Northern Railway, the line continued until 1941.
During World War I, many young people left family farms to serve overseas or work in factories that supported the war effort. Afterwards, they headed west to harvest wheat, or south to Michigan automotive plants.
Post WWI, motor cars became commonplace. Residents travelled to Kingston, Napanee, or Belleville for materials and machinery previously bought only in Tamworth. Small businesses couldn’t compete, but despite the decrease in industry, the village continued to thrive.
With the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression, jobs vanished and possessions became worthless. Young people returned to the farms of Tamworth, once again working alongside family and community to survive. As the Depression eased, young people again sought employment in cities. More prosperous farmers bought rubber-tired tractors to assist with agricultural tasks. Poorer farmers either took on another job for additional income or sold their land to wealthier neighbours.
Business and trade continued to be attracted to Tamworth. In 1951, a Community Centre was built to provide a place for hockey, curling, public skating, and other community gatherings. Recently modernized, it is still very much in use today.
June 10th, 2023: Celebrating 175 Years
Saturday, June 10th will see an impressive collection of celebratory activities along Main Street reflecting Tamworth’s Irish ancestry. World champion town crier Chris Whyman of Kingston will open the day’s events at 10:45am followed by live entertainment: the Napanee Pioneer Square Dancers, the Harp of Tara Irish Dancers, and performances by Kelli Trottier, internationally renowned fiddle player and Séan McCann, co-founder of Great Big Sea.
Main Street will be closed to vehicular traffic to allow pedestrians to safely meander among artisan’s market booths along the sidewalks. Festive decorations include flower baskets, wagon wheels, milk cans, a hitching post, and new street pole banners with an Irish flare. A free BBQ lunch will be provided by Tamworth & District Lions Club. Food will also be available at the Devon Tea Room, The River Bakery and Café, A1 Corner Restaurant & Variety, and Black Cat Café, so no one should go home hungry. There’s plenty to do and see, come and stick around for the day.
Other attractions include: children’s activities including face painting; Hitched Games for youth and adults; cotton candy, popcorn, snow cones, maple taffy on ice; family bingo; antique vehicles, and farm equipment. There will be displays and demonstrations of historic craft skills such as quilting, tatting, basket weaving, spinning, beekeeping, soap making and historical exhibits covering the Fire Department, British Home Children, the Women’s Institute and antique Christmas trees. Additional historical contributions will reference the Redden Telephone Company Ltd., Milligan Farms, Bennie’s Lunch, Gaffney’s Garage, Norris’ Grocery Store, and the Tamworth Creamery. Cunningham Park, Friends of the Salmon River, and Canada Post will also be represented.
With activities flowing from the centre of downtown to the Tamworth Hotel and Black Cat Café and up to Things of the Past, you’ll find volunteers dressed in locally handmade period costumes, reflecting styles of the mid-1800s.
Home since June 2007 to the North American Gaeltacht (an area ‘in which Irish is spoken as a community language and in which the culture and traditions of the language are very much alive and thriving’), Tamworth’s Irish heritage is still evident today. The only official Gaeltacht not located in Ireland, it provides a valuable link to Irish history, language and culture. Various classes, camps and festivals are held on the acreage in Tamworth.
The Tamworth Hotel, featured in the novel In the Skin of a Lion by Canadian author Michael Ondaatje, will open rooms for rent for the first time in decades. Tours will be available of the newly renovated guest spaces. Ondaatje’s mention in his story of immigrants, physical labour, vision, passion, and the tumult of growing industry is a fitting tribute for a town so steeped in history.
Generously donated souvenirs include: 175 red pine and red maple saplings to be taken home and planted in community yards and wooden coasters depicting Tamworth’s Mill and the dates.
Activities, displays, demonstrations, and food will continue until 4:00pm. Drone footage will be taken by Don Joyce in continuation of historical records.
The Tamworth175th Committee wishes to thank the following for their generous support of our community: Tamworth & District Lions Club; Royal Canadian Legion Tamworth Branch 458; Township of Stone Mills; Lennox & Addington County; Heritage Canada; and the many other local businesses and individuals who have made donations of time, financial support, parking spaces, photos, documents, and stories. A congratulatory letter will be on display from Tamworth, England.
In the works since February 2022, the 175th celebrations are about more than just a milestone birthday. This year, Tamworth honours the pioneering spirit, agricultural heritage, entrepreneurial drive, and community bonds which have been historically evident and served the village well. In a time when many small towns are struggling, Tamworth continues to be a thriving centre of social, economic, and educational activity, and is a monumental credit to individual and collective resilience.
Tamworth Has What it Takes to Thrive
A spectacular combination of Canadian Shield landscape, agricultural fields, lakes, rivers, trails, and parks, Tamworth’s natural setting is not to be missed. Be sure to enjoy swimming, hiking, cycling, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, boating, and camping in the region. After all that fresh air and exercise, you’ll want to stop by the Devon Tea Room, The River Bakery and Café, A1 Corner Restaurant & Variety, or Black Cat Café for delicious refreshments.
Can’t decide? Extend your stay and spend the night at the Bon Eco Suites, Tamworth Hotel or one of many local short term accommodations and waterfront cottages. There’s lots to do in the area during your visit. Outdoor enthusiasts, gardening experts, language learners, astronomy lovers, history buffs, geology fans, and geocaching experts welcome. Tamworth gladly hosts writers, artists, and photographers. Close to major travel routes, the village is a favourite stop on the drive from Toronto to Ottawa or Kingston to Belleville.
Local businesses are a key part of Tamworth, providing a delightful and extensive shopping experience. In addition to grocery, pharmacy, and hardware stores, many local artists and artisans sell gifts and souvenirs to nurture the soul. Check the Tamworth website (tamworth.ca) for current information on community events.
It is truly the people who make the Tamworth community so welcoming, enjoyable, and memorable. People who support our local businesses: people who pull together in good times and bad; who raise money and lend their energy. An important part of any community is its volunteers. It takes hundreds of volunteer hours to keep Tamworth attractive and running smoothly: people who work together for the good of all, who find common ground between the generations, and who see their differences as complementary strengths.
For 175 years, it has been the people of Tamworth who keep visitors coming back and create a thriving home for residents new and old. Tamworth’s community, resilience, and spirit are a joy to celebrate for many years to come.